St. Catherine was raised in luxury in a noble family in Bologna. Yet, at fourteen, she persuaded her family to let her join a community of Franciscan tertiary. From an early age she had experienced visions of Jesus, “who would enter into her soul like a radiant sunshine to establish there the profoundest peace.” But there were also demonic thoughts that sometimes plunged her into despair. Through constant prayer she vanquished such doubts, and one night during the Christmas Vigil she was rewarded by a vision of the Blessed Mother, who offered her the great privilege of holding her infant Son. “I leave you to picture the joy of this poor creature,” she wrote, “when she found herself holding the Son of the eternal Father in her arms. Trembling with respect, but still more overcome with joy, she took the liberty of caressing Him, of pressing Him against her heart and of bringing His face to her lips…”
After some years Catherine was directed to take charge of a convent of Poor Clares in Bologna. Her reputed gifts of healing and prophecy – as well as her deep kindness – attracted many novices. Whenever she had to correct a young sister, she would insist on sharing in her punishment. When on of the novices was tempted to leave, Catherine pledged to take her place in purgatory until the end of time if only she would remain. (The novice stayed.)
Among her last instructions: “If you would have all, you must give all.” She died on March 9, 1463, and was canonized in 1712. Apart from several devotional books, Catherine left behind a number of hymns and paintings. She is honored as a patron of artists.